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Sebastien Ogier put down a marker to his WRC title rivals with a blistering drive to win the Catalunya Rally's opening stage in Barcelona on Thursday night.
Restored to the itinerary after a year’s absence, Barcelona’s street stage kicked off the action, based in the lower section of the Montjuïc hill on roads that used to host the Spanish Grand Prix.
A clever tyre strategy enabled the Frenchman to win the 3.20km street test in the centre of the city by 3.7sec in his Ford Fiesta.
FIA World Rally Championship leader Thierry Neuville bounced back from a roll in the morning’s shakedown to finish second in his Hyundai i20. Ott Tänak, the outsider in the thrilling title battle, was a further 0.5sec back in a Toyota Yaris.
Ogier opted for Michelin’s medium compound tyres which offered maximum grip on the asphalt.
“We had a good strategy with the tyres but let’s see for tomorrow. We have a little less tyres than the others but I think we can manage. It won’t be easy for the rest of the weekend,” he said.
Neuville chose a mix of hard and medium rubber and admitted he made a mistake in not following Ogier’s tactics. The Belgian thanked the mechanics who repaired his car after this morning’s crash.
Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen was 1.4sec behind Tänak in fourth with Elfyn Evans fifth in a Fiesta and WRC 2 leader Eric Camilli rounding off the top six in Volkswagen's brand-new Polo R5.
Nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb, driving the last of his three-rally 2018 schedule, conceded almost 16sec after stalling his Citroën C3 at a hairpin bend early in the stage.
The action switches to the hills west of rally base Salou tomorrow for six primarily gravel tests covering 144.88km.
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